What Exactly Is a Compare and Contrast Essay?
Simply put, it is an essay evaluating the similarities and differences between two subjects. These subjects will be in the same category, but different. You might compare and contrast two different kinds of pets, or two novels from the same historical time period. Maybe you’re thinking that writing an essay about just one subject is hard enough! Where do you even begin with a coherent essay about two topics?
No worries. Here is a step-by-step guide to writing a great compare and contrast essay.
Step 1 – Choose Your Subject
Remember that your two subjects must be different, but still in the same ballpark, to create a meaningful compare-and-contrast essay. For example, if you want to write about two different historical figures, it makes sense to choose two great artists rather than an artist and a politician.
- Modigliani and Picasso
- Mozart and Salieri
- Vegetarians and meat eaters
- Humanities-minded and Mathematically-minded
- Extroverts and Introverts
- Fatalist and Voluntarism
- Orthodox and Catholicism
- Democracy and Totalities
- Generation Y and Generation Z
Step 2 – Brainstorm Similarities and Differences
Make two lists: one list of similarities, and another of differences. If you are a visual person, a Venn diagram can facilitate this process. Simply create two overlapping circles, one for each of the topics that you are comparing. Traits that differ are noted separately, within those that they share are written in the overlapping space. This is a helpful visual aid, because it organizes similarities and differences clearly. All you have to do is glance at your Venn diagram to get a sense of the things that you could write about. If you prefer to focus on one subject at a time, jot your lists down on a blank sheet of paper and flip it over to the other side for the other subject. Remember to keep the characteristics of the different subjects somewhat parallel. This will make it easier to structure a good argument.
Step 3 – Hone in on Your Main Argument
A good compare-and-contrast essay goes beyond a simple listing of similarities and differences to make a meaningful statement about a larger topic. When you look at the lists you’ve made, what strikes you as significant? What do these similarities and differences say about the topic? That will be your main argument.
Step 4 – Decide on Your Organizational Structure
There are many possibilities for structuring a compare-and-contrast essay. You could write about one subject in detail, and then switch to the other.
Let’s say you are comparing and contrasting women and men. You could write two paragraphs about qualities that are common to women (they tend to be more compassionate, they are good multitaskers) along with some that they share with men (they are capable of sacrificing self for the good of others.) Then you would focus on men in the next section. (Men usually have superior physical strength and technical skills).
You can also go point by point throughout the essay. In this case, your first body paragraph might state: “While men may not always show compassion for the problems of others, they are usually more likely to actually do something to fix these problems.” You could also on similarities first, and then differences. In this case, your first body paragraph(s) might read: “The male and female brain are alike and both men and women perform better when they feel appreciated and valued.” Choose a structure that makes sense for your argument.
Step 5 – Write an Outline
Craft an outline that fits the structure you have chosen. Traditionally, an essay consists of an introductory paragraph, three body paragraphs, and a conclusion. Consider including four body paragraphs instead to give balance to your two subjects.
Step 6 – Fill in Supporting Evidence
As you begin to write your essay, back up your assertions with evidence from research, reading, or personal experience. If you are comparing and contrasting cats and dogs, use personal anecdotes about friends and their pets to bolster your arguments. (“My roommate’s dog always greets him when he comes home each day, but my cat never does.”) If you are writing about similarities and differences between the poetry of Shakespeare and Keats, include plenty of quotes from their poems to support your statements. With any information that you include, be sure to explain why it matters in the context of your larger argument.
Step 7 – Craft Your Essay with Strong Transitional Words
Transitional words give your essay a nice flow from one statement to the next. When comparing, use words like “both,” “likewise” and “similarly.” Words such as “nonetheless,” “on the other hand,” and “whereas” are ideal for forming a contrast.
Step 8 – Proofread and Revise Carefully
Once you have finished, read your essay several times to check spelling, grammar, and punctuation. Make use of spell check and grammar check tools in your word processing program. If possible, get a friend to cast a fresh pair of eyes on it to find mistakes you might have missed. We often have difficulty reading our own work objectively and can miss silly mistakes.
Follow these steps, and you will be well on your way to writing a compare-and-contrast essay that cannot fail to impress your reading audience.